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ties, * each having a veto against the vote of the other. Thus was a check found upon popular passion, and a permanent division made of the Legislative body.
The Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay had the power to exclude all persons from their territory whose views upon any question did not meet their approval, and often was that power exercised. The freemen, who were the original governing body by the charter, determined that citizenship and the franchise should belong only to Christian men who were members of some of the churches in the colony. Nor could a church be established without permission from the civil power and the majority of existing churches."
I The next step in the body politic above the freeman was the town. The freemen of the towns chose Deputies to the General Court or Legislature, elected their own local officers, and made ordinances not repugnant to the laws of the General Court. In all New England to-day, while the suffrage is nearly universal, the towns still form the unit of their geographical and political system. With small variations, the local government of towns by the people thereof, as born in Massachusetts Bay, has pervaded nearly every State in the Union.
King Charles, after signing the charter of 1629, attempted to govern England without the aid of Parliament, and also to take from the colonies their power of local self-government. A Commission was named to * Palfrey's N. England, vol. i., p. 258.
Palfrey, vol. I, p. 173. | Palfrey, p. 274.
rule America. The people, in council at Boston, decided to resist the usurpation; but Charles found that matters of greater importance, at home, demanded his attention, so the people continued to enjoy their charter through his reign.
Up to 1640, Massachusetts had no code of written law. The powers of government were vested in the Governor, Assistants and the General Court, which consisted of the Deputies from the towns and the Magistrates, * who in turn consisted of Governor, Deputy Governor and Assistants. When the General Court was not in session, the Magistrates were the supreme government or standing council of the Commonwealth.† Each freeman belonged to some town, and by his Deputy shared in the measures of expediency which they called laws. With the growth of the colony the demand for definite and well known laws called for a written code, and the authorities, who had been accustomed to rule as their whims dictated, were forced to recognize the laws of England to be in force in the colony, as far as they were consistent with its circumstances.
Nathaniel Ward, of Ipswick, in 1641, drafted a code of laws styled, “ The Body of Liberties,” which the General Court adopted. Ward, who had been bred a lawyer and a divine, began his code by a Bill of Rights, made the number of capital offences only ten, and sustained the death penalty by references to scripture. Attempts were made in all the New England colonies to regulate by law the prices of commodities
* Palfrey, vol. i., p. 118. † Palfrey, vol. i., p. 318.
and of labor, and men were forced to support the ministrations of religion and personally to attend upon them.*
Down to the year 1686, all the charter governments of New England were very similar to that of Massachusetts. Elections of officers were held annually, the towns were governed by their own local magistrates and were represented by deputies in a General Court or Legislature, suffrage was restricted to a chosen few, but taxes were imposed upon all who had property. The whole of New England was laid off into towns, which were bodies politic, managing their own local affairs. The local officers usually consisted of a Board of Selectmen, a Clerk, a Treasurer, a Sealer of Weights and Measures, Surveyors and Tithingmen, all of whom were elected by the freemen.
The highest judicial and legislative body in Massachusetts was the General Court. Not until 1692, when Massachusetts received a new charter from William and Mary, was the Judicial power separated from the Legislative. The General Court alone possessed the pardoning power. Appeals lay from the Town Courts to the Inferior Courts, which consisted of five judges, and had jurisdiction in civil causes in the sum of £10, and in criminal causes, not concerning life, member or banishment.f Appeal then lay to the Court of Assistants, and from this to the General Court. There was no recognized method of appeal to any authority beyond the sea.
In all the colonies of New England, the Assistants, or * Palfrey, vol. i., p. 283. t Palfrey, vol. i., p. 277.
Magistrates, were also Justices of the Peace, and professional lawyers were not to be found. New Haven, which previous to 1662 was not a part of Connecticut, was guided in its government by the teachings of the Old Testament, and found no place for jury trials. In 1664, Charles II. began a system of interference in the affairs of the New England colonies, which continued in various forms by the mother country for more than a century. At first, Commissioners were sent out in the interest of the King, “ to lead and dispose the people to desire to renew their charters, and to make such alterations as should appear necessary for their own benefit.” *
The Commissioners found little difficulty, except in Massachusetts, in disposing the colonies to submit to laws contrary to what they had enacted for themselves. When attempting to act in Massach usetts, they were held as usurpers of authority which the charter of Massachusetts conferred upon the people thereof. Royalty never did consider Massachusetts devoted to the principles of arbitrary government.
On the twenty-third of October, 1684, the Court of Chancery of England declared the charter of Massachusetts forfeited. The main charges upon which this judgment was founded were that the colony had presumed to coin money, had not enforced the Act of Navigation, had passed laws contrary to those of England, and had purchased the Province of Maine from Gorges while Charles II. was negotiating for it. The dispute had lasted for many years, and as far back as 1678, the General Court, in an address to the King, said : * “The laws of England are bounded within the four seas, and do not reach America. The subjects of his Majesty here being not represented in Parliament, so we have not looked at ourselves to be impeded in our trade by them, nor yet we abated in out relative allegiance to his Majesty. Laws repugnant to the laws of England they were willing to repeal with all convenient speed—except such as the repealing whereof would make them to renounce the professed cause of their first coming." Thus, nearly a century before the Declaration of Independence, the people of Massachusetts maintained their rights of local self-government, and denied the absolute power of Parliament.
* Palfrey, vol. ii., p. 61,
With the abrogation of the charter, every right, privilege and immunity which had been founded on it, was swept away.
Massachusetts was a conquered province, in which “His Majesty's Lieutenant and Governor-General” was made the sole ruler, with no power to restrain him but the King.
Upon the accession of James II., in February, 1685, a Commission was formed to govern New England, consisting of a President, Deputy President and sixteen Councilors, whose authority was to extend over Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and King's Province, which lay between Rhode Island and Connecticut. No Assembly was provided for, and the powers of this new government were only executive and judicial. Soon Sir Edmond Andros was sent over to govern New England, and empowered to make laws with the consent of his Council, which were to
* Palfrey, vol. ii., p. 224.